2005, Oman, 105'. Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center ([email protected]). $7.95 + s&h
Oman’s first feature film is a charming tale set in a picturesque fishing village where traditional life and the seafaring economy are threatened by a local shaykh’s development scheme. Nour, the female protagonist, organizes fishermen to oppose the plan. “Could this be the destiny of our village—just a museum for tourists?” ponders a villager. The film addresses the growing tension between tradition and globalization in the region, and among the outsiders driving change and their insider allies. (SO08)
Arab American Comedy Tour
2006, US, 95’. Arab Film Distribution (www.arabfilm.com), $19.99 home / $150 institutional. Just Your Average Arab. Raouf Zaki, dir. 2006, US, 19’. www.filmondigital.com/jyaa, $25 personal / $200 institutional.
This pair of videos showcases the universality of comedy—no passport needed. The daring performers in Arab American Comedy Tour shed light and humor on what it means to be Arab–American in today’s political climate through stand-up comedy routines. In the satire Just Your Average Arab, Arabs and Muslims from the Indian subcontinent meet in the storage room of a convenience store for a class on Arab–American post-9/11 survival. Leading man Ahmed Ahmed’s lampooning of stereotypes illustrates why he won the first Richard Pryor Award for Ethnic Comedy. (SO07)
Bab’Aziz: The Prince Contemplates His Soul
2005, Tunisia/France, 96’
This is the whimsical tale of Bab’Aziz, a wise old blind man who journeys with his spirited granddaughter, Ishtar, in search of a legendary gathering said to take place somewhere in the eternal desert. The pair travels from the Atlantic shores of the Maghreb all the way to Iran. Bab’Aziz knows that if he “listens to the infinite silence of the desert with his heart,” he will find the place. Along the way, the pair encounters a series of fellow travelers whose stories help unlock ancient mysteries and contemporary truths. The film is a vast, lush feast for the eyes and heart by a veteran Tunisian storyteller. (SO07)
Battle for Islam.
2006, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Turkey, 63’. English with some subtitles. vhs 978-1-4213-4191-0, DVD 978-1-4213-4192-7, Films for the Humanities and Sciences (www.films.com), $149.95
Ziauddin Sardar, a renowned British scholar of Pakistani origin, travels to Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia interviewing a variety of Muslims, from heads of state to hairdressers and wedding singers. Their wide swath of political beliefs and cultural and religious practices illustrates the diversity that flourishes in the wide range of cultures of Asia and North Africa. This far-reaching exploration of Islam after 9/11 is refreshingly optimistic, suggesting—despite the documentary’s title—that the faith will focus on its core principles of equality and justice rather than extremism. (SO07)
Between Two Notes
2006, Canada / Israel / Palestine / Syria, 90' / 45'. National Film Board of Canada (www.nfb.ca/store). $26.70 individual / US$275 institutional
Set in Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Damascus and Aleppo, this documentary explores the harmonizing impact of music that reaches across the Arab–Israeli political divide. The film’s narrative of the common heritage of music is woven through local musicians’ performances on the ‘ud, santur, nay, violin and four-valve Arab trumpet, and the blending of oriental and occidental scales. “If you deal with this music, you have to deal with peace,” notes one musician. (SO08)
Turkey, 105’. Turkish with English subtitles. First Run Features, http://firstrunfeatures.com/bliss_educational.html. $24.95 individual, $395 institutional/education (available January 2010).
Set against the impressive backdrop of Turkey’s natural wonders, an ex-soldier/would-be executioner in an honor killing and his wrongly accused victim make a journey of self-discovery in which they confront the demons of their past. This unconventional road movie takes an unexpected turn when they meet an academic who is also looking for a second chance in life. Adapted from internationally acclaimed author and folk musician Zülfü Livaneli’s novel Bliss, the film is a tale about choosing between society’s harsh, traditional dictates and finding one’s own path. (SO09)
Captain Abu Raed
2007, Jordan, 95'. Paper and Pen Films, [email protected]
This is one of Jordan’s first feature films, produced by a 90-person crew of 14 nationalities. It consists of two parallel tales, one of a widowed airport janitor who finds a pilot’s hat and takes on its owner’s persona to tell stories to neighborhood children that will spark their dreams. The other is of a female pilot whose father is trying to marry her off. Shot mostly in Amman, the film portrays the new multilingual Jordan and tackles issues of poverty, abuse, alcoholism and dashed dreams. www.captainaburaed.com (SO08)
Caramel (Sukkar Banat)
2005, Lebanon, 96'. www.amazon.com. $19.99. asin B0016MLIK2
This taboo-breaking feature film is about five women at a Beirut beauty salon, from different generations, backgrounds and religions, who struggle to deal with heartbreak, sexuality and aging between haircuts, facials and intimate conversations. Themes include the unattainable quest for beauty and the high emotional toll of societal and family obligations. The film’s focus on social issues rather than war makes it a rare breed in recent Lebanese cinema. (SO08)
Chahinaz: What Rights for Women?
dirs. 2008, Algeria, 52’. French/English with English subtitles. Filmakers Library (www.filmakers.com). $39.95 home / $100 high schools / $295 other institutions / $85 rental
This documentary focuses on the worldwide struggle for women’s rights viewed through the eyes of Chahinaz, an upper-middle-class Algerian college student who loves her country but struggles with the inferior legal status of women there and elsewhere. She explores efforts to effect change by interviewing women around the globe, including a journalist in India, a young American evangelical Christian, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland. She thus puts the fight for women’s rights into a universal framework, showing that the issue is not unique to Muslim cultures. (SO09)
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul
2006, Turkey, 90’. English/German/Turkish. $22.99
The identity of modern Istanbul is told through its music. Arab, Iranian, US and European styles, rhythms and instruments illustrate the city’s blend of eastern and western cultures, and show how Turks are addressing issues ranging from Eurofication to minority rights in music. The documentary follows Alexander Hacke of the avant-garde band Einstürzende Neubauten as he roams the streets of Istanbul, recording an inspired portrait of Turkish music. It ranges from neo-psychedelic to fusion and rock, from digital dervish to break-dance, and from acclaimed clarinetist Selim Sesler to street performers Siya Siyabend, Kurdish singer Aynur and legendary divas Müzeyyen Senar and Sezen Aksu. (SO08)
dir. 2007, U.S., 20’. Free with newsletter signup
A young man named Sami believes his family’s Detroit gas station will provide him with a place to meet his girl, Naj, away from family pressures and friends. His cousin Mike is sure it holds the key to an empire built on cigarette papers and fake perfume. This gritty, daylong view of a neighborhood convenience store probes relationships between its Arab–American owners and their African–American customers by exploring themes of race, economics, friendship and love through the identities and encounters that shape the Arab–American and immigrant experience. (SO09)
Dishing Democracy: Arab Social Reform via Satellite TV
dir. 2007, all Middle East, 57’. English. Films for the Humanities and Sciences (www.films.com). $169.95
This film profiles Kalam Nawaem (”Sweet Talk”), a smart, edgy and wildly popular Cairo-based talk show aired by the Middle East Broadcasting Center. Its four women hosts—a veteran Egyptian journalist, the first Saudi woman to appear on international satellite tv, a Lebanese and a Palestinian—are changing the way the Middle East views itself. All working mothers, the hosts are diverse in age and political views. They discuss controversial issues, ranging from homosexuality to the link between poverty and terrorism, with intelligence and grace. (SO09)
2006, Israel / Palestine, 85'. Arab Film Distribution (www.arabfilm.com/item/429). $24.99 individual / $350 institutional. asin B000R4SKEW
This documentary offers, at last, a somewhat hopeful examination of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. It profiles the Forum of Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli Families, who come together in shared grief around the deaths of their children. Members, who work to educate their own communities about creating change through grassroots organizing, include a Palestinian man who gave up hero status to work for peace and a Jewish Israeli mother seeking reconciliation with the family of the sniper who killed her son. (SO08)
2006, Israel/Palestine/Egypt, 84’. English and Arabic. Arab Film Distribution (www.arabfilm.com), $24.99 home / $300 institutional
The Israeli occupation is shown as experienced by the Palestinian national soccer team. Gathered from the Palestinian diaspora, players from Chile, Kuwait, Lebanon, Sweden and the US meet in Egypt to train for a World Cup qualifying match while their teammates from Gaza are delayed indefinitely at the border. The documentary illustrates the effects of the occupation on sport: players unable to train or compete on their home turf, violent deaths of friends in Palestine, and the challenges of creating a unified team from players with vast cultural differences. (SO07)
Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution
2006, Iran/France, 98’. Farsi with English subtitles. First Run/Icarus (www.frif.com). $125 rental / $440 purchase
Iran’s is one of the most highly regarded national cinemas in the world, regularly winning festival awards and critical acclaim for films which combine remarkable artistry and social relevance. This documentary by a French-born filmmaker traces the development of the Iranian film industry. Film clips and interviews with filmmakers, critics, government officials and industry executives illustrate the close relationship between cinema and politics, from the decades-long rule of the shah to the rise of Khomeini, the birth of the Islamic Republic and the devastating war with Iraq. Influences include Russian cinematographers fleeing the Bolshevik revolution, 1950’s Hollywood spin-offs, dissidents testing the limits of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and 1980’s antiwar films. (SO07)
Iraq in Fragments
2006, US / Iraq, 94'. Arab Film Distribution (www.arabfilm.com/item/417/). $29.99 individual / $400 institutional
An opus in three parts, this documentary filmed during two years in Iraq offers a series of intimate portraits: a fatherless 11-year-old apprenticed to the domineering owner of a Baghdad garage; individuals in two Shiite cities rallying for regional elections; and a Kurdish farm family that welcomes the US military. While not offering any fresh insights into the war or occupation, the gritty shards of contemporary life depicted in the film put a human face on suffering and struggle. Kilometre Zero, Hinar Saleem, dir. 2005, Iraqi Kurdistan / France, 96'. Global Film Initiative (www.globalfilm.org). [email protected] $18.71 individual / $195 institutional. asin B000YVB2PC. This feature film tells the story of conflict between Iraqi Kurds and their countrymen. The setting is the Iraq–Iran war of the 1980’s, when Kurds were drafted to serve in the Iraqi army. The film pairs a Kurdish soldier, under orders to return the body of a dead soldier to his family, with an Iraqi taxi driver who will drive them cross-country to the dead soldier’s home. Scenes between the men, in the close quarters of their truck, are interwoven with often comic scenes of Iraqi soldiers and officers. (SO08)
dir. 2005, Iran, 90’. Farsi with English subtitles. Farabi Cinema Foundation (www.iranianmovies.com). $16.95 individual, $31.95 institutional
Grizzled Captain Nemat presides over dozens of homeless, marginalized Arab families and workers who have formed a community on a mothballed, rusting tanker off the Iranian coast. He dispenses largess, settles disputes and cuts backroom deals, controlling residents with absolute power. This works as long as everyone acquiesces. However, violent crises strike when young lovers attempt to defy his authority, and when business interests seek to seize the slowly sinking ship, evict the residents and sell it for scrap. What future has this sinking city? (SO09)
Le Grand Voyage
2004, France / Morocco, 108'. Film Movement (www.filmmovement.com). $12.95 and $24.95 individual. upc 616892-650027
This funny, poignant road movie focuses on an elderly, religious, Moroccan-born father and his very secular teenage son Reda, who he demands drive him from their home in France to Makkah. Through sightseeing in Italy, a mysterious woman hitchhiker in Serbia, a blizzard and hospitalization in Bulgaria and border difficulties and theft in Turkey, Reda learns why his father wanted to make the trip by car rather than plane. In the end, the struggle between the Hajj-bound father and his rebellious son becomes a journey of love. This is the first feature film of the Hajj to be shot on location. (SO08)
Linda and Ali: Two Worlds within Four Walls
2005, Qatar, 94’ minutes. English and Arabic. Women Make Movies (www.wmm.com). $89 schools, public libraries and select groups / $295 universities, colleges and institutions
Linda is American, Ali is Qatari. She grew up Catholic, he Muslim. They live in Doha, have been married 20 years and have seven children. This documentary by a Belgian filmmaker candidly portrays the joys and challenges of a long-term marriage. Many of the issues are universal—she wants more attention, he wants more freedom—but others are specific to Muslim families in a Gulf state, such as hesitancy over letting one of their daughters participate in gymnastics. Yet Linda and Ali Saigal’s enduring devotion and friendship have sustained them over the years, proving that love can be greater than cultural differences. (SO07)
Men at Work
2006, Iran, 75'. Film Movement (www.filmmovement.com). $12.95 and $24.95 individual. upc 616892-844821
This film tells an offbeat, humorous tale of four ordinary guys and a big rock. Middle-aged buddies from Tehran, on a ski trip, discover an oddly shaped, weather-beaten boulder by the side of the road at a picturesque vista. Attempts to dislodge the rock by pushing, digging, pulling by donkey, prying with a makeshift lever and ramming it with an SUV gradually disintegrate into a tale of betrayal, defeat and renewed hope. The men’s stubborn and ultimately futile tactics to push it over the edge seem to stand for something intractable, whether in the state or the masculine psyche. (SO08)
A New Day in Old Sana‘a
2005, Yemen, 86’. Arabic with English subtitles. cd Universe, $18.49 (www.cduniverse.com) Arab Film Distribution, $400 institutional use (www.arabfilm.com).
Yemen’s first feature film is a light-hearted yet message-laden tale of the struggle between true love and tradition. We get to be insiders in women’s spaces and conversations, filmed among the walled gardens, narrow alleyways and latticed tower homes of the old city. The narrator, an Italian photographer, provides a framework for the tale of a stolen wedding dress, a girl dancing alone at night on a dark street and the bumbling police officers who try to solve the crime. (SO07)
dir. 2008, Jordan, 90’. Arabic with English subtitles. Icarus
Films (www.icarusfilms.com). $398
What is the correct response of Muslims to foreign occupation of Islamic lands? The question is debated in a rundown neighborhood of Zarqa, Jordan, birthplace of Abu Musa al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. This film chronicles Abu Ammar, the father of eight, a student of Islam and a former mujahid from the Afghan–Soviet war, who struggles to support his family by collecting cardboard for recycling. Everyday conversations with Abu Ammar’s friends, customers and family offer insights into the political and economic disenfranchisement and disillusionment that can cause people to engage in violence. Interspersed are scenes of typical life in Jordan that illustrate the complex and competing forces at work among the masses. (SO09)
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People
2006, Media Education Foundation, 1-932869-00-X, $29.95 (home viewing); $250/$150 (college/high school viewing)
Jack Shaheen is America’s leading critic of Arab stereotypes in entertainment media, but he’s no wild-eyed pundit—more like Mr. Rogers telling you there’s a problem in the neighborhood. In 50 minutes he’ll change the way you watch a lot of movies. (Do hear him out before popping for, say, this spring’s action-thriller “The Kingdom.”) First, he says, there came “Arabland,” a “mythical theme park” framed by “ominous music,” with an oasis inhabited by foolish, wastrel “pashas on their pasha cushions,” surrounded by lovely harem maidens but always casting a shifty eye and/or brandishing a glinting sword at a (blonde) western heroine. In the ’70’s, the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian revolution raised nightmares in the American psyche that Hollywood soothed with triumphalist action films filled with terrorist Arabs, relentlessly cruel and motivated by unfathomable hate—the modern equivalents of whooping, doomed Indians in westerns. Much of this would be mere silliness, Shaheen argues, if it weren’t for the fact that “policy enforces mythical images, and mythical images enforce policy.” “The stereotype will begin to change,” he says, “when Arabs and Muslims are projected as we project other people—no better and no worse.” He points to new, smart films: the moral dilemmas of Palestinian wannabe suicide bombers in “Paradise Now”; the magnanimity of Saladin in “Kingdom of Heaven”; the diversity of Gulf War characters in “Three Kings”; and the mix of unflattering honesty and idealism in “Syriana” (Shaheen was a consultant for these last two), as well as the rise of Arab comedians on television. “We’ve unlearned our prejudices against many other people,” he concludes. “Why not Arabs and Muslims? The key is not to remain silent.” (MA07)
Santa Claus in Baghdad
dir. 2007, U.S./Iraq, 40’. Arabic with English subtitles. www.santaclausinbaghdad.com. $40 individual, $250 institutional, including study guide
This charming yet heart-wrenching tale of expectations, hope and love amid the un sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s revolves around two subplots. One focuses on 16-year-old Amal’s farewell gift for a popular teacher: a book of Kahlil Gibran poems that had belonged to her teacher’s mentor. The other centers on Amal’s little brother Bilal and his belief in Santa Claus. When his uncle arrives from the us with a suitcase full of badly needed medicines, but no toys, Bilal’s hopes are dashed. “My son hasn’t had a toy all his life. I can’t face myself,” his father cries. (SO09)
dir. 2002, Iran, 123’. Farsi with English subtitles. Fabrica (www.iranianmovies.com). $14.95 individual, $29.95 institutional
This impressionistic satire highlights a day in the life of an idealistic, well-educated female election official and a soldier who try to collect votes from residents of a remote island in southern Iran on election day. The election official has some success getting an odd assortment of characters to vote, but a question keeps coming up: Do these civilians need or want any say in national politics? She gets her answer in the form of a metaphor: a red stoplight in the middle of nowhere. The official wants to run the absurd light, but the soldier uses her own words against her—just because they are far from the rest of Iranian society doesn’t mean they are exempt from its rules. The film offers a brilliant and humorous look at the question: What effects do national politics really have on daily lives? (SO09)
Tehran Has No More Pomegranates
dir. 2007, Iran, 68’. Farsi with English subtitles. Documentary Educational Resources (www.der.org). $39.95 individual, $145 institutional
This documentary blends archival footage and interviews with ordinary Tehranis to paint a dynamic, ironic portrait of a capital in constant reform. Noting that the city’s history has been written by either foreigners or “Iranians with no credibility,” the film attempts to set the record straight on the political and social evolution of Tehran—and Iran. Laced with brilliant touches of humor and irony, it is an excellent example of how ingenious Iranian filmmakers are “shooting between the lines” to address sensitive issues. (SO09)
2002, US, 30'. English. National Film Network (www.nationalfilmnetwork.com). $19.95, incl. libr. circ. rights / $109.95, incl. public perf. rights (non-paying audiences).
Is the hijab, or head scarf, that some Muslim women wear an expression of faith, political protest, cultural identity or oppression? Muslims living in the US, both foreign-born and native-born, share diverse views and personal experiences. With the rights and responsibilities of Muslim women among the most contentious issues of the day, and the hijab the example most fraught with East–West tensions, this documentary makes an important contribution to understanding. (SO07)
Twenty Years Old in the Middle East.
2003, Jordan/Syria/Lebanon/Iran, 52’. Arabic/Farsi/English. First Run/Icarus Films (www.frif.com). $75 rental / $390 sale
Filmed after the fall of Saddam Hussein, this documentary takes the pulse of young people in Jordan, Syria, Iran and Lebanon. “There are big games being played in the region. Great strategies are decided for the Middle East. We are powerless. All people can do is suffer,” notes an Iranian theology student and aspiring mullah who sings in a heavy metal band. It’s a feeling echoed throughout the region. “We lack ideals,” says a university student in Beirut. “The Arab myth is fading. We don’t know where to look for references. We are lost.” Wary of the future, these university students crave freedom and want to feel pride in themselves and their cultures. For many, dreams and hopes coexist with hopelessness and despair. This is an indispensable snapshot of youth who desire liberty over extremism. (SO07)
What’s a Human Anyway?.
2004, Turkey, 128'. Global Film Initiative (www.globalfilm.org/catalogue05.htm).
This feature film is set in a modern-day Istanbul apartment building where family, friends and neighbors live in close quarters. The story centers around four males stepping into manhood:?an amnesiac taxi driver, a little boy who refuses to be circumcised, a young man who refuses to do military service and a 30-year-old man who refuses to leave home. Punctuated with touches of humor, the film illuminates life in a very patriarchal society. The finale puts together the intricate pieces of the puzzle, and all the events each character has experienced create a larger picture of what it means to be human. (SO08)
2006, Egypt, 165'. Strand Releasing ([email protected]). $27.99 individual.
This feature film tackles a number of social issues by focusing on the lives of people who live or work in an actual colonial-era building in downtown Cairo. Inhabitants range from poor families living in converted rooftop storage rooms to a wealthy, foreign-educated “pasha.” A blend of classic Egyptian cinema, post–World War II Italian neorealism and Hollywood action film, the portrayal of modern Egyptian society depicts disaffected and alienated Egyptians of all generations. It features strong performances by leading man Adel Emam and chanteuse Youssra. (SO08)